In Battleground Colorado Independents May Have the Last Word

Photo: Wikimedia Commons[/caption]

In a loft just outside Downtown Los Angeles, Meghan Leuders, is packing up her things. The recent Tufts University graduate is headed to the airport to embark on a two month internship in Ghana.

But her mind is focused elsewhere. This week, early voting began in her home state of Colorado. She flies in just a couple hours, and yet her absentee ballot is blank and unsent.

Four years ago, Leuders would have voted immediately. This is the same young woman who keeps an unabridged copy of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America in her glove compartment.

“I should vote,” she sighs, “It’s just that I don’t believe in what either candidate has to say.”

Leuders is not alone. Youth involvement in this year’s election is distinctly less enthusiastic than it was four years ago. Back in 2008, the momentum behind Obama’s winning campaign was largely backed by a college-educated, politically-aware generation.

But it’s more than just a disillusioned youth at play here. Leuders marks a trend of increasingly indecisive voters hailing from Colorado specifically. In February, NPR released a prescient, Colorado-focused piece in which it showcased the findings of moderate think tank, Third Way:

“In Colorado, the percentage of registered Republicans and Democrats rose slightly since 2008, but at a much slower pace than the rate of newly declared independents.”

On the early campaign trail, both candidates paid close attention to the usual swing states. They went out of their way to hit key cities in Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Iowa, and Wisconsin. All the while, the West went largely overlooked, but after Obama’s lackluster performance in the first presidential debate earlier this month, he lost his already-fragile grip on the Rocky Mountain state. Colorado has emerged on the map as anyone’s game.

Now, with Election Day fast approaching, major news outlets are beginning to recognize Colorado as an highly-strategic battleground, one that could very well dictate who wins this upcoming vote.

Both candidates recognize it. After Sunday’s final debate in Boca Raton, Mitt Romney left Florida to circle back across the country. Obama’s motorcade followed close behind.

On Tuesday evening Romney hosted a massive, high-energy rally at the Red Rocks Amphitheater in the hills just outside of Denver. In the center of the dramatic open-air arena, Romney placed his hand over his heart, graciously accepting the cheers of his Colorado supporters.

“We’re on the home stretch now,” Romney told onlookers in a rare moment of public emotion, “I think the people of Colorado are going to get us all the way there.”

He’s not too far off. Twenty-four hours after Romney rocked the Red Rocks, Obama’s entourage rolled up to City Park and packed it with comparable crowds. Both candidates spewed stump rhetoric, marveling at Colorado’s greatness, its patriotic spirit, and beautiful landscape.

The near-identical tactics of both campaigns is proof enough: this state is divided, plain and simple. Romney and Obama are playing it safe, because everyone knows it’s up to the swing voters. The action (or inaction) of Colorado independents will ultimately decide whether Colorado turns red or blue on the electoral map come November 5th.

As sudden as Colorado’s rise in national presidential politics may seem, its path to realization has been a slower process than the media coverage otherwise suggests. Over the last four years, more and more Colorado voters are registering independent.

Yesterday, NBC News polled Romney and Obama as locked neck and neck in the fight to win Colorado. In a race as tight as this, Meghan Leuder’s reluctant participation is significant. Maybe she voted; perhaps she did not. Regardless, her uncertainty, shared by eligible voters across her home state, is something to pay attention to as the voting begins.